Updated: March 09, 2020 10:52 PM
Created: March 09, 2020 10:22 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— When the call goes out that an officer is in an altercation, training kicks in and APD jumps into action.
"So, we're going to go check on their safety. Make sure everyone is ok,” said APD Sgt. Middleton.
After officers arrived to the scene, the fight had ended and a suspect was in custody, but there’s still work to be done. The next step is for officers to figure out what level of force was used to arrest the suspect.
Officer 1: "No, it's a level two because you did a leg sweep.
Officer 2: “I did two. Because the first one didn't work - he jumped back up - so I did it again."
On January 11, a new APD use of force policy took effect.
"Every time an Albuquerque Police Officer uses any kind of force, they're being investigated and they're being investigated rigorously,” said Shaun Willoughby, president of the Police Association.
Willoughby said the recent change is to help ensure APD compliance with Department of Justice requirements.
"The first use of force program that we reformed in the Albuquerque Police Department was inefficient and ineffective,” he said.
Previously, police officers in the field had to spend more time looking into any use of force that was deemed significant.
"So what happened in the old system is you had 17 to 20 hours of investigation time per use of force for a sergeant and then the lieutenant had another 12 to 13 hours and then it went to a commander who had several hours of investigation,” Willoughby said.
Now, use of force is separated into three levels: Level 1 is no injury, Level 2 is minor injury and Level 3 is force that results in serious injury or death.
In an effort to free up officers on the street and show consistency when the independent monitoring team checks in on DOJ compliance, nearly 59 officers have been moved into a compliance bureau.
Twenty-nine additional officers are solely dedicated to investigating other officers’ Level 2 and Level 3 use of force.
"There's a job that's not going away and that has to be done right,” said Lt. Kenneth Johnston with the Internal Affairs Force Division. "It's not just easy as, I check the box of ‘leg sweep happened’. We had a reason to do it. It's a lot deeper dive than that."
Johnston said to meet the DOJ requirements consistently, use of force investigations can take anywhere from 45 to 90 days.
Since the policy began, Johnston’s department has taken on 87 different use of force investigations.
"So, by taking these 87 out of the hands of field services, we've saved them around 2,600 hours of time to where they can be doing other parts of their job,” he said.
According to Willoughby, officers are still working out kinks in the system.
"Now, I mean, is it perfect? No— we're understaffed,” he said. “We don't have the resources in the force team that we need and we've dedicated so many resources to the compliance bureau—it's ridiculous. It's a frustration point for police officers."
Despite APD officer numbers growing for the first time in a decade, Willoughby said they still don’t have enough officers, especially with so many officers committed to DOJ compliance.
"And it's frustrating for police officers who are out there taking calls for service who are dealing with the public. Who are—why did it take you 45 minutes to get here? Two hours to get here? It's frustrating for rank and file officers to see all these resources are being allocated to internal affairs, use of force division or to compliance,” he said.
During a police ride along in January, KOB 4 saw firsthand why some people have to wait for help when they call 911.
"Right now, we have four calls holding in our area command. Which is very, which is actually kind of low believe it or not,” said Sgt. Middleton.
Other calls for service started to stack up.
"That's four calls. People are waiting as long as 71 minutes and all units are busy with something," Middleton added.
After an officer altercation, like the one that occurred during the ride along, use of force investigators get started right away.
The time it takes for officers to investigate each other is still taking time away from other policing.
"The department is faced with a balancing act right now. We have two priorities: one of them is compliance. We've got to get our police department back. We've got to comply. And the other one is crime, and we just don't have resources to do both effectively,” Willoughby said.
Willoughby said he gives credit to Mayor Tim Keller for growing the numbers of officers at APD for the first time in a decade. However, he’s concerned that momentum is not continuing.
Today, APD has 923 sworn officers. Back in May 2019, APD had 957 sworn officers. An APD spokesperson said he anticipated the department to reach 1,000 officers by the end of 2019. KOB 4 asked if APD had ever reached 1,000 officers before declining, but they did not immediately answer our question.
Willoughby said he’s also concerned about retaining APD officers. He said in the 16 months over 140 officers will become eligible for retirement.
An APD spokesperson said they continue to recruit aggressively with new branding campaigns, targeting lateral hires from other departments and academies and offering longevity pay to officers coming from other departments based on years of experience.
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